TEACHING AND LEARNING USING TECHNOLOGY : Lessons to be learnt

It is largely believed that technology (in particular Information and Communication Technology) will bring about the desired learning outcomes and that students will develop conceptual understanding of themes. In schools, this view has given way to an understanding of ICT as being an enchanted means for students to acquire knowledge. Though ICT has been critical in opening access and opportunities to information and knowledge, its use in schools has been limited to the bare minimum – PowerPoint.  I do not consider that using PowerPoint necessarily makes of our class an ICT-driven one.  Technically, there is no difference between a PowerPoint presentation (of a lesson) and the dictation of notes, as is most often the case in our schools. There is a need to demarcate between access to information (whether PowerPoint or digital materials) and knowledge construction and skills development.
Many researches have shown that ICT can be integrated in a system on the express condition that a technology paradigm that incorporates inquiry, critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity and values is adopted. Technology should be the vehicle for helping teachers to create the adequate learning environment to enable learners to construct knowledge as well as develop the appropriate skills, as illustrated by the figure (based on our own team research):
What is important in the knowledge construction process is the interaction among a number of variables, such as contextual knowledge, pedagogy and technology.  Let me explain how each one should be locked into a single entity for learners to construct purposeful knowledge structures in their minds so that knowledge makes sense. Ideas (and not knowledge) that are disunited are meaningless and create confusion in the minds of learners and this further hinders acquisition of knowledge. This is what is presently happening in our society, where people are always prompt to ‘act’ without first ‘thinking’. And when the ‘thinking’ occurs, it is much too late.  Let me clearly explain the meaning of the three elements to clarify matters.

 Contextual knowledge
Understanding about a new situation happens when we have some previous understanding (prior knowledge) of the situation, which could either be similar or different but related. When there is understanding, this implies that knowledge has been constructed and it makes sense. Now, this newly constructed knowledge should be in harmony with other concepts acquired in other subject areas. At times, it is sad to note that concepts learnt in one subject area are not in congruence with concepts learnt in another subject area and this adds to more confusion. For example, a concept learnt in mathematics (gradient) is rarely related to a similar concept learnt in science (rate of change).

Pedagogy
This is the most important variable in the whole process; it captures a variety of elements, such as teaching-learning strategies, assessment and values. It is high time that teachers put aside their beloved traditional approach to teaching and adopt learner-centered strategies and engage learners to interact with their peers and with them (teachers), for knowledge construction is most effective in a social milieu.  Discussion (general or in groups) under the supervision of the teacher becomes imperative for learners, as they need to learn how to respect the views of others. There is a degradation of values in our society and the school – which forms part of what I call ‘the education triangle’ (State-School-Parent) – is one the most important elements for the development of values in our learners.

Technology
Technology, which includes the hardware and software, is the means to help learners acquire knowledge. In this case, the teaching method adopted has to change and the lessons will have to be based on a thematic (context) approach. Technology can serve the purpose of helping learners make sense out of nonsense (all the stuff they have to study). We should not forget that a classroom is composed of learners of different abilities, normally categorized in three groups: low, average and high abilities. This means that a teacher can expect that learning will occur if only he/she engages learners (I am focusing on learning rather than on teaching to lay emphasis on acquisition of knowledge by learners) to construct knowledge by unfolding the lessons with a clear-cut demarcation between the three abilities. That is, the teacher has to adopt at least three different strategies to capture all the abilities during the lessons. It is then that technology will be an indispensable tool to engage learners to construct purposeful knowledge structures, that is, knowledge that makes sense. At the same time, teachers can monitor progress of individual learners and report to parents about progress and also involve them to form part of the whole process. Removing one of the elements creates a vacuum, leaving learners with the opportunity to haphazardly construct ‘their own knowledge’, which might be contradictory to the general values.
 To summarise, the adoption of technology in our schools should have a well-planned dimension and elements of research should be considered while integrating it in the teaching-learning routines. Technology can, no doubt, speed up learning, but it can also slow down learning, with unpredictable consequences. An overwhelming majority of young primary school kids can fascinate us with their technology-savvy aptitude, but how many of them can tie their shoelaces (development of skills) properly and display the desired type of respect to teachers at school and to elders at home or on the streets?


Commentaires

Presently, it is not possible to implement a modern system for educating our kids.(The fault is not in our kids).First of all the race for a top mark to go to a star school should be revised. All teachers should be holders of a degree followed by a teacher education degree to be able to teach. Then the class size must be reduced to a maximum of 20-25 students, the reason being our classroom size does not allow group work to be done effectively. I can name you so many activities which we can do to create interest in our kids. Our desks are two seaters and most importantly our teachers are not trained to differentiate. We have to stop assessing on pencil and paper work only. I do not see any of our teachers doing assessment for learning and of learning and as learning, throughout the year which will be a burden to our teachers who are mostly bothered about tuition and running away from school as soon as the bell goes. Before we even talk of ICT in the classroom we need to train our teachers to use this technology first. Not many teachers can use technology in the classroom. Not every school can afford an overhead projector or an electronic writing board or a document reader or so many other tools required to teach. The curriculum needs to be revisited. There are so many hands on activities which can be done to arouse higher order thinking in our students without the use of sophisticated technology but unfortunately the stiff framework of mind of most of our teachers and the school admin along with a politics of education with an obscure vision will not produce the desired effect. Before we even think of ICT we have to make sure that maintenance can be done and fast and within affordable budget, have technical support and easy access to internet with the required security. It reminds me of one public service department where a scanner was broken and it was pronounced irreparable by the company for reasons which every person reading this comment will understand. So at the present moment ICT is not urgency.

Thanks for this insightful article that has generated much interest amongst readers.
Having said this, we have to accept that over the years we have encouraged a teaching that has stressed on rote learning with preference for grade-related academic achievements, itself oriented towards money-earning professions. The curse of private tuitions is linked with it. Our stress on creativity and innovation from students has been limited. That is the reason we are good copycats but not good creators and innovators. Of late, Singapore that has been presented as a paragon, is itself changing path to review its science teaching, and move towards what Nordic countries have encouraged. The real lab is the outside world where students, guided by teachers, learn to think for themselves, discover new concepts, ask multiple multidisciplinary questions, that teachers have to be prepared to say: we will research and come back with a possible answer next time. Arousing interest and curiosity amongst the children so that they think for themselves, as a group, and come up with possible solutions, has not been adequately addressed.
Technology is only an aid to learning but not to thinking! We tend to accept the easy way out!
Best wishes,
Pr. S.Jugessur

ICT in schools is indeed a laudable concept. It complements the process of teaching and learning. But do we have enough resources available to "walk our talk" in terms of up to date equipment, software, computers, servers, anti-virus, etc ...

Dear Observer

Since this discussion has been an ongoing one on Club des Militants, many teachers came forward with their qualms and queries. The most important point raised was that we lack the infrastructure let alone technology!
in some schools where the Sankore programme was being tried, there was resistence from older members of staff and some complained about a lack of preparation time! I suppose to be able to walk our talk, we must look at modernising the basics. Revamping our schools - unfortunately, we have a lethargic govt!

Intersting piece that invigorates the debate on the effective use of IT in the classroom. More than a decade ago, schools as in Australia and the UK immersed themselves in the IT 'bubble' by having laptop programs and IT teaching and learning. Has it really made a difference or is it just a 'fashion'? Researchers have agreed that IT in the classroom do make a significant difference to teaching and learning. Academically, I have to agree with the writer that teachnology is the vehicle, I would call it the super glue that binds the different subject areas, hence the teaching strategies has to adopt an approach that enables the learner to be creative and accumulate knowledge which also caters for different levels of learning abililties.

In November 2011, Club des Militants put forward a series of proposal on the above. Sharing it with you all here.

Club des Militants believe that there should be free and faster internet provided in all schools to facilitate interaction and learning.We propose the following:■ICT should be included in most schools – across the curriculum. It should be integrated in lessons and it should be an assessment criterion for inspectors when observing lessons.

■Free wi-fi or internet access should be made available to all schools.
■All schools must be equipped with computers with upgraded software to assist teachers.
■We propose deals with China or India to have computers supplied at a cheaper rate – the cheap tablets could be made available too.
■Alternatively, old computers could be recycled to be re distributed around schools.
■The Sankore programme defeats its purpose as most teachers are not trained to use it or it is only available in certain classrooms – many teachers do not have access.
■The Integration of ICT in lessons will help to promote interactive learning and could boost pass rates. However, teachers must be given appropriate training. Parents must also be sensitised on the importance of interactive learning and the use of ICT – it is not a waste of time, but a means of boosting exam results and may help reduce the need for extra tuition - there should be more investment in Interactive resources.
■There should be a restriction of sites like Facebook and other social networking forums to avoid students wasting time.
■Awareness should be raised on cyber bullying – students may fall prey to that.
■There should be the inclusion of Virtual Learning Environments, where teachers and students could upload or download resources as well as homework – we should create a hub so that all the students can access their work from anywhere.
■For all this to materialise, teachers must be allocated more preparation time and we should have a reduction in class sizes. We should be able to cater for all learning styles and should make the lessons more fun – the aim is to eradicate parrot learning and create global citizens.
We would like to thank all the members who participated in this debate to help us have a better insight into the crux of the matter.

The debate is ongoing on: https://www.facebook.com/groups/clubdesmilitants

'I am focusing on learning rather than on teaching' So truely said.I have been observing teachers in the Primary using technology in their classes,most of them were so teacher centred and sometimes it felt like a one man show going on where students' role were only that of being spectators.Ongoing research indeed is needed in this field for the integration of technology in the classroom!!

Well said,professor. However, as long as what you call the education triangle does not agree to review the method of assessing educational outcomes, the
educator cannot take the risk of trying out any other teaching strategy than the one that corresponds to the type of examination the learner would be eventually called upon to take. I think the younger generation of educators would be ready to go into learner centered mode provided we redefine 'pass', 'fail', 'A+' and so on.

Your article is well-written.
But to be honest, however good your intentions are, things are bound to stay as they are, at least for a long time, and specially in state-run schools, as long as our present system sustains this massive private tuition business. There are indeed criticism as to the stagnancy or rather the traditional approach in which many teachers stick to; but knowing that whatever positive efforts are made, there is absolutely no recognition in the Civil Service, it's more practical to keep tons of written notes, lesson plans, record of works for silly inspectors.

Hi again. Yesterday when I posted my comment, your name, Prof Ramma, had not appeared, at least on line. Notwithstanding this, I still appreciate your article.
I seize this opportunity to pass on this message, because there has been no response from other channels: The new science book that has been prescribed for form 1 students this year has been taxed by many sensible science educators as a bundle of rubbish.
Any comments on that?

Sensible science educators:-

* why teachers prefer to dictate notes so that learners mug up and write a bundle of non-sense for the exams; higher order thinking skills are non-existent, when will we move to innovative ways of thinking and doing

* if parents do not help their children at home and do not provide private tuition, more non-sense will bundle up and things will be more difficult for teachers - why is it so?

* by the way I heard that the national exams at form III level will be based on the new NCF and the students who have not been taught according to materials based on the new NCF will be at a disadvantage; is it true or we will have more magouille later and cover up? 25% pass rate at form III exams offered by sensible science educators

* if bookshops will be asked to provide "cheaper" books prescribed for students what will happen to their profits? We parents are victims of the plots by teachers and bookshops

* have science teachers been trained to dictate notes and to focus on those who can pass only? I thought science teachers would engage students into meaningful interactions, to work in groups, inculcate some core values, like cooperation, tolerance, sincerity and honesty; i do not see that happening; instead a bundle of robots are in the making who can just answer exam questions

* why nobody is taking initiative to alter the way teaching and leaning is taking place in schools?

* if someone comes up with something new why is there so much of resistance; is personal interest and tuition market driving all decisions regarding education; i feel that if inquiry based teaching learning will take place as science instruction rightly demands, then the lucrative business of tuition will suffer, so many sensible persons have no choice than to drive public opinion towards rote learning so that their business is safe!!!

* the same sensible people have opposed the 21st century science; this programme is also inquiry based and demands some effort from educators and above all, it is not giving opportunity to teachers to mint money so it is bound to be opposed

* however I appreciate a lot what my teachers have done for me in the past and will always be thankful to them; trying to compare with teachers of today!!!!

What more can I say as a parent frustrated by the way things are happening in the schools, which used to shine in the past and served the purpose; some people call themselves sensible science educators instead of mechanical private tuition providers

Well, in response to this comment, allow me to shed some light into the Form I textbook. It has been written with a learner centered perspective as prescribed by the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) 2009 (secondary). Knowledge should be constructed by each one to make sense of the concept/situation/context and not to be memorised, otherwise it becomes just a piece of alien information which is meaningless. 'The difference between school and life is that in school you are taught a lesson and then given a test, whereas in life you are given a test that teaches you a lesson' - Tom Bodett. Is this not an insightful statement? The textbook has been written in such a way that learners are engaged into knowledge construction by being involved in problem solving tasks. Of course, it stands to reason that the teacher has to prepare the lesson, discuss with colleagues and agree (internally) about the different facets involved within and across the concept and then get the students to work through discussion. So, students are engaged in inquiry to construct in their minds the purposeful knowledge structures and eventually develop a critical mind - someone who can think not at one level, but beyond. If we want students (or anyone) to 'think' first and then 'act', I don't see (for the time being) any other way than to give them opportunity to express themselves during group work 'to agree to disagree' and to through collaboration, to collegially come to a common solution. I should say that knowledge construction is a painful process, but once it has been acquired at a particular level, it acts as a ladder for the next level, etc. If we want a change in our society, we will need to do things differently and the NCF provides such a leeway. We keep on criticising the system, but do we not each of us form part of the system? Are each of us contributing positively (even how small it may be) in the system?

Dear Prof Ramma, I think it will take some time for some educators to understand the philosophy behind the new form I book for science. It is rightly based on the new curriculum framework approved by various instances, till the Cabinet. Most probably some educators have not even seen the content of the NCF. The reaction should have been to the NCF years back, than to the book now. Anyway some of those who are used to choosing the easy life will always do so, and continue to offer recipe type notes and damage the bright future of our learners/kids.

What we need now is people who can think, who can take decisions, who can evaluate a situation, who can provide a critical analysis of a problem and to take an informed decision, to be competent to drive research and innovation, to match with students from around the world in international competitions ...

All these things should be taught to children through carefully planned activities through which science knowledge, science process skills, problem solving, communication skills, conflict resolution, higher order mental operations and other important related skills can also be taught. The activities presented in the form I book caters for the development of these skills. Most of the activities involve group discussions, observation of a context to draw important information from it, expressing ideas and views, and decision making on important issues.

Some people appear to be more concerned about the segregation of the concepts into Biology, Chemistry and Physics as number of contact hours, than presenting the science in an integrated manner. What is the meaning and purpose of integrated science, that is taught in lower secondary schools around the world?

It is expected that graduates (in the sciences), read the materials, prepare the lessons, offer these activities to students at form I level, as carefully planned lessons in which important skills are developed. The learners at this age have a natural curiosity which has to be satisfied, the thirst for scientific knowledge has to be understood and taken care of. Projects which engage learners into meaningful learning have to be explored, tasks that can be completed along with parental involvement have to be explored so that the human touch between parents and children are maintained, a child-driven family webquest exercise on a topic of interest is not just a dream.

Well, let us hope every educator feels being a significant part of the system who can bring a positive change to education in Mauritius, than thinking about recognition and other things first.

L'éducation ne se limite point aux purs savoir et savoir-faire(partie utile à l'élève : savoir se débrouiller dans le contexte social et technique qui sera le sien.) L'éducation doit aussi assurer à chaque individu le développement de toutes ses capacités, soit physiques, intellectuelles et morales. Ainsi, cette éducation lui permettra d'affronter sa vie personnelle, de la gérer en étant un citoyen responsable dans la société dans laquelle il évolue, capable de réfléchir pour pouvoir éventuellement construire une nouvelle et meileure société. Voir l'adage ~ A good teacher teaches, a great teacher inspires.